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Food

    Asia Travel  --  Food & Drink

    Two Countries, Two Cuisines, Too Delicious

    The Food of Taiwan and Malaysia

    Location: Taiwan and Malaysia

    Taking a cooking class and going on a food tour in every country I visit is a goal I have. And I accomplish it often, but not always. But when I can I always enjoy it and over the past couple of weeks I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing two countries, two cuisines, too delicious – the food of Taiwan and Malaysia.

    Taiwan

    We spent six days in Taipei Taiwan. We weren’t really tuned in to the Taiwanese cuisine, half expecting it to be just like China. But unlike China, Taiwan has been strongly influenced from Japan (with historical influence also from Portugal and Holland) and it’s noticeable in the cuisine. The Chinese influence comes primarily from Eastern China (Fujian). And certainly the fact that Taiwan is an island, the cuisine has a much stronger focus on seafood than much of China.

    Scallion pancake on Food Tour in Taiwan
    Scallion Pancake is one of our favorite foods we discovered in Taipei Taiwan

    GoTuCook

    A search online led me to Chef Calvin at GoTuCook. Thorough out our world travels I’ve taken cooking classes large and small, in cooking schools and home kitchens, from world famous chefs and humble housewives. And usually my favorite experiences are the ones where I have one-on-one time with the instructor in their home. This was my experience with GoTuCook.

    Mushroom and chincken soup in Cooking class in Taipei
    The beginnings of a delicious shiitake mushroom and chicken soup

    We met early in the morning at the Beitou metro station from where we walked to experience the bustling thriving market and the local vendors selling to the local people. I always love this experience with a local who can explain unusual ingredients, answer my questions and enlighten me to this way of life long gone in America.

    At The morning market Beitou Taipei
    Me at the busy Beitou morning market

    Next we headed to Calvin’s apartment, set up perfectfully for cooking classes. I had chosen three dishes I wanted to make ahead of time from a variety of options listed on the GoTuCook website. I chose as a starter Jellyfish Salad and for a soup course a chicken and mushroom soup and for our main course two kinds of pork dumplings.

    Displaying all the dumplings made by hand in Taipei cooking class
    My pretty dumplings ready for the steamer

    I liked both the jellyfish salad (requires an overnight soak of the chewy jellyfish in the fridge before prep) and the fragrant soup with a broth we cooked with chicken feet as well as meaty parts from the blue chicken, but my favorite was the dumplings.

    Chef Calvin of GoTuCook
    My new friend Chef Calvin of GoTuCook

    Making Chinese style steamed dumplings takes some practice. I’ve done similar work in classes before (making empanada in Argentina, pirogi in Poland and dumplings in Vietnam) but it’s still a chore to get your fingers to make the beautiful designs if it’s not a task you do everyday. We made pork with cabbage and spices and pork with corn and different spices. And then we ate!

    Of course we had leftovers and I brought dumplings and jellyfish to my husband who was back at the hotel.

    I really enjoyed this class and plan to tackle dumplings on my own soon. I recommend GoToCook if you visit Taipei.

    Pork bun One sample from Taipei Eats Food Tour
    The pork “burger” was one of the best things we had on our Taipei food tour

    Taipei Eats

    We also took an amazing walking food tour with Taipei Eats where we expanded our Taiwanese cuisine knowledge with Taiwan Pork “burger”, stinky tofu, betel nut, scallion pancake and much more. Taipei Eats was one of the best food tours we have ever done. Our guide was amazing, there was so much food and we learned some interesting facts while meeting local people as well as other travelers from around the world. Such a wonderful experience!

    TStinky Tofu at Taipei Eats Food Tour
    This is probably the one and only time for me with the Stinky Tofu

    Malaysia

    What a country Malaysia is for a foodie. This remarkable country is a melting pot of many cultures, and it shows in everything, especially the food. Malay food is often spicy, and nasi (rice) features often. Eating with your hands is common. Pork is rarely featured in this cuisine because most Malay are Muslim.

    Prepping the chicken at Indian Cooking Class Kuala Lumpur
    Learning Indian cooking in Kuala Lumpur

    On the other hand, many Chinese immigrated here in the 1800’s when this land was a British colony and the Chinese food is abundant, and often includes pork. Noodles, chicken and dumplings are also widely enjoyed.

    And then there is the Indian food, representing the vast number of Indians living in Malaysia. The use of pungent spices and curries, more noodles as well as lots of vegetables make up this delicious cuisine.

    Indigenous Malaysian sweet treat
    Ancient Malay cultures enjoyed this rice flour treat

    No matter what ethnic background, the people in this country love fried foods and fried chicken, seafood, samosa and much more are popular both as street food and in restaurants.

    Off the Eaten Track

    The food tour we took in Kuala Lumpur was very unique and one of the best ever. At the end of the evening we had sampled twenty-four (yes you read that correctly) foods of this diverse and delicious country.

    Chinese Soup at Kuala Lumpur Food Tour
    A very local Chinese Soup with veg, chicken and tofu

    We signed up with Food Tour Malaysia for their Off the Eaten Track tour and were met by our guide Timothy at a subway stop in a suburb of Kuala Lumpur called Petaling Jaya where we began our gluttonous odyssey at an outdoor Malay neighborhood food court that operates 24 hours a day seven days a week. Here we found just locals enjoying the foods they loved. We had Nasi Lemak wrapped in banana leaf; ota ota, a smoked mackerel wrapped in palm leaf; a rich goat and potato soup; fried chicken and fried tempeh. I was full before we left this first stop.

    Amazing Night Market at Kuala Lumpur Food Tour
    My husband Arne recruited to work on the “carrot cake” stir fry – one of our favorite things we had on our Kuala Lumpur food tour

    Next we headed to probably the best night market I have ever been too, also in the suburb of Petaling Jaya. Here we learned about the popular “carrot cake” (not a cake in the sense we are used to, more of a pressed tofu), we had spring roll, noodles, dumplings and sweet Chinese daun pandan filled with peanuts.

    Trying new foods like mackeral in palm leaf at Kuala Lumpur Food Tour
    Mackerel cooked inside a palm leaf

    Next we headed to a very local-only Chinese open air restaurant to sample more noodles cooked over an open fire and a delicious soup with chicken, okra, long beans and potato.

    Chinese sweet treat at Kuala Lumpur Food Tour
    Daun Pandan a sweet Chinese treat

    Our final stop was an outdoor Indian restaurant, and we were the only non-Indians there. And darn it I was so full I couldn’t really enjoy the amazing feast of roti, lentil dal, curry, a giant fried pancake with a coconut curry dip, fried chicken and mango smoothie. Roll me home. What a night it was. If you are ever in Kuala Lumpur, do this tour – but pace yourself!

    Indian Bananan Roti at Kuala Lumpur Food Tour
    Banana Roti a sweet Indian treat

    The Versatile Housewives

    To round off our food frenzy in Kuala Lumpur we spent one morning with Ruth, a cooking instructor who brings the flavors of her native India to visitors in Kuala Lumpur through her business The Versatile Housewives. We learned to make one of India’s most famous dishes, biryani, with a group of local university students in Ruth’s kitchen. Biryani is a rich and flavorful traditional dish, often served at weddings and ceremonies. It can be beef or lamb or chicken. We made a chicken biryani. The flavors of this dish come together by slowly preparing the fresh ingredients of caramelized onions, vegetables and spices like cardamon, cloves and pepper as well as herbs like cilantro and mint. After slowly blending all these flavors with rice and chicken, the biryani is served in a giant bowl and enjoyed communally. Check out Ruth’s website for a great selection of delicious Indian recipes.

    Indian Cooking class Kuala Lumpur
    The beautiful Biryani we made with our instructor Ruth

    No matter where you travel, diving into the culture through food is the most interesting and tastiest way to engage with locals, learn history and culture and broaden your culinary chops. Be brave! Eat the world!

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    Food & Drink

    My Favorite Cooking Classes Around the World

    Fabulous Travel Adventures

    I don’t take a cooking class in EVERY country, but I’d like to.  I love to learn about local cultures through food and I look for that experience when I can find it.  In some countries finding a class is difficult or impossible.  Other times it just doesn’t fit my schedule.  But I always make an effort and when I do attend a class I am never disappointed.  Just today I signed up for a cooking class for my upcoming visit to Hong Kong.

    I can recommend all of the cooking classes below…many of these I have written blogs about and you can click directly to read those blog entries.  I encourage you to consider cooking classes, even if

    Cooking Class in Tuscany

    Cooking in Tuscany

    cooking isn’t a big part of your life.  Taking a class in a foreign country with local people, often in their homes and with their families, is one of the most rewarding ways to open up the cultural lines of communication all while enjoying a delicious and fun experience.  Fabulous!

    Tuscany/Italy – My first cooking class took place in Tuscany with a group of friends we were traveling with seven years ago.  We learned to make an amazing meal from the owner of the Villa where we were staying.  She was a former chef and chocolatier!  Our amazing meal included handmade pasta, vegetable terrine, beef loin and lots and lots of wine.

    Argentina – We took a very fun cooking class in Buenes Aires during our two day visit prior to getting on a cruise ship.  Unfortunately we were so jet-legged the experience is a little bit fuzzy in my memory.  The class was

    Cooking Class in South Korea

    Cooking in South Korea

    held in the home of the chef, and there were about 8 people in attendance. We made several different kinds of empanadas, made delicious chimichurri sauce and butter cookies and  learned about Matte – the unique and ubiquitous drink of Argentina.

    South Korea – in Seoul I spent two full days with a world famous South Korean Chef the Korean Food and Culture Academy and it remains one of my all time favorite experiences.  One of the days I was with just one other student.  The second day I was with four other students.  I learned to cook about a dozen dishes including Kimchee and I have used these recipes over and over

    Cooking Class in Croatia

    Cooking in Croatia

    ever since.  Who knew Korean food was so amazing?  I didn’t and that is one of the best parts of the experience.

    Croatia – I’m a sucker for slow roasted meats and it’s one of the staple foods in many of the East European countries.  My experience in Croatia was a mouth watering one, learning the ancient and incredibly delicious process of cooking Peka over an open fire.  The lamb dish is spectacularly delicious and a celebratory Croatian speciality.

    Guatemala – I loved my full-day private cooking class in Antiqua Guatemala. I had the chef all to myself and an English translator.  We made several dishes, enough to feed an army, and I ended up taking all the food home to enjoy another full meal with my husband.  Learning

    Cooking Class in Spain

    Cooking in Spain

    to make the tortillas was a favorite activity, that proved much more difficult that you might expect!

    Morocco – In Asilah Morocco we were blessed to have the most wonderful Airbnb that included a daily housekee and full-time cook.  What a special treat that was during our ten days in this tiny

    Cooking Class in Thailand

    Cooking in Thailand

    ocean front village.  Each day she cooked for us and we watched and learned from her.  We also went with her to the market and learned about the local specialities from tagine to couscous.

    Thailand – It’s a tough call for me to say which class was my favorite but I would definitely put my two days at the Thai Kitchen Cookery School in Chiang Mai very near the top.  It was a comedy of errors how I ended up there, but in hindsight I was so glad I did.  I loved the class, the staff and the wonderful foods I enjoyed over my two-days with them.

    South Africa – Several of the classes I have taken over the years have been in the personal homes of the chef, bringing me closer to the local

    Cooking Class in Belize

    Cooking in Belize

    culture in a familiar and family way. In Capetown South Africa my husband and enjoyed a wonderful evening in the home of our Chef who taught us about local cuisine from the African culture with the European influence.  We ate Emu for the first time and many other delicious dishes as well as exceptional South African wines with our Chef and her husband.

    Vietnam – One of my all time favorite cooking experiences was in Hoi An Vietnam, which coincidentally is also one of my all time favorite cities.  I took an all day class at the famous Mrs. Vys Cooking School.

    Cooking Class in South Africa

    Cooking in South Africa

    The class began with a bike ride around the city that included stops at several markets, a beautiful organic community garden and at the home of a bean sprout farmer .  I learned so much and enjoyed the bike ride as well.  Returning to the school we toured the multiple cooking stations within the school watching the professionals making food beautiful before heading upstairs to the kitchen to tackle our own recipes.  I ate so much that day, and learned so much, and highly recommend this place if you are ever in Hoi An.  I hope to return some day.

    Spain – I loved Barcelona, and especially loved the famous Mercado de la Boqueria for its color and festive atmosphere as well as delicious and fresh food.  It was here where my class began, touring, tasting and

    Cooking Class in Poland

    Cookin in Poland

    purchasing the ingredients before heading upstairs to cook.  Our three-hours class included such Catalan specialities as paella, gazpacho and Spanish Tortilla.  I have cooked these items many times since.

    Poland  – Krakow is one of my favorite European cities, under-appreciated by many visitors to Europe.

    Cooking Class in Vietnam

    Cooking in Vietnam

    We loved the food of Krakow and did a food walking and drinking tour as well as a pierogi cooking class.  My teacher was a young college student who was born and raised in Krakow.  We met at the market where she helped us speak Polish to the vendors to acquire the ingredients we needed for our dish.  We then proceeded to her tiny, communist era apartment where we maneuvered around her little kitchen learning to make the dough and the stuffing for several different pierogi.  It was one of my favorite classes ever.

    Belize  – Learning about the food and culture of the Garifuna people of Belize, with our two adult sons was a highlight of our family time together in Belize.  Cooking outdoors on an open fire with Chef Gloria doing everything from breaking and shredding the coconut to pounding the yams with a wooden mallet made the final delicious dinner all the more satisfying and fun.

    So those are some of my favorite cooking class experiences over the past several years.  To be sure I will be writing about more wonderful cooking experiences in the future. Because life is fabulous and delicious!

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    Food & Drink

    In the Garifuna Kitchen with Chef Gloria

    Our Belize Adventure Cooking Local

    Location: Hopkins Village, Belize

    Faithful followers of this blog are familiar with my desire to explore and embrace local cultures in my travels.  One of the absolute best ways to do that, is to spend time in the home of a local person learning how to cook the local cuisine.  There is nothing better.  Authentic, informative and delicious.  So that is how we found ourselves in the Garifuna kitchen with Chef Gloria.

    We found Chef Gloria (conveniently just down the street from where we are staying in Hopkins) through

    Garifuna Kitchen

    Chef Gloria

    Taste Belize, a website connecting visiting foodies with local food adventures.  Taste Belize has several options, but the option to learn about the Garifuna culture and foods was the one for us.

    Garifuna

    If you  are not familiar with the word Garifuna, here is a brief description from Wikipedia;

    “The Garifuna (/ˌɡɑːrˈfnə/ GAR-ee-FOO-nə;[3][4] pl. Garinagu[5] in Garifuna) are an indigenous people native to the island of St. Vincent who speak an eponymous Arawakan language.

    While they are ancestrally and genealogically descended from groups that migrated from the Lesser Antilles, mainly Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, many Garifuna today are of mixed ancestry, primarily with West African, Central African, Island Carib, European, and Arawak admixture.

    Garifuna Kitchen

    Cutting the plantains

    Most Garifuna people live along the Caribbean coast of Honduras, with smaller populations in Belize, Guatemala, and Nicaragua. They arrived there after being exiled from the islands of the Lesser Antilles by British colonial administration as “Black Caribs” after a series of slave rebellions. Those Caribs deemed to have had less African admixture were not exiled and are still present in the Caribbean. There is now also a large number that have moved to the United States.”

    Chef Gloria

    Chef Gloria met us in her brightly colored yellow Garifuna dress (yellow, black and white the official Garifuna colors) with a big smile and generous welcome to her small outdoor cooking facility.  She began our visit with a simple language lesson;

    Good Morning – Buiti Binafin

    Welcome – Buiti achüluruni

    How Are You – Ida biña?

    Thank you – Seremein

    The Garifuna language is primarily based on the Arawak language of the indigenous people of Central America, but also incorporates elements of French, Spanish, English, Carib and West African languages.

    The Garifuna cuisine, just like its language, is a colorful melding together from the history and environment

    Garifuna Kitchen

    Husking the coconuts

    of which the Garifuna people have emerged.

    Fresh and Local

    Our ingredients for the dish we were preparing on this day all came either from Gloria’s yard, or the sea in front of the kitchen.  Making the favorite Garifuna dish of Hudut (mashed plantains) with Sere (coconut fish stew) we used fresh coconut, plantain, basil, oregano, habanero and red snapper all gathered just for our feast.

    So we began our work in the Garifuna kitchen with Chef Gloria.  The wood burning stove was hot when we arrived and we began by carefully using a very sharp knife to peel the plantains.  If you have never peeled a plantain

    Garifuna Kitchen

    Family Coconut Success

    you might be surprised.  The texture of both the skin and the fruit is firmer than a banana.  We used about a dozen unripe plantains and about a half a dozen softer ripe ones.  These boiled for 15 minutes (unripe) and we added the ripe at the end for five minutes.

    While the plantains were over the fire we headed out to shuck the coconuts.  Still in their green outer shells, Gloria helped us peel away the husk with the use of a wooden stake in the ground.  I broke the stake when it was my turn (I don’t know my own strength), so we then went to the sharper metal stake not usually used by the amateurs.  Once we each had a husked coconut, Gloria masterfully used a machete to open each and

    Garifuna Kitchen

    The Mennonite Coconut Drill

    we drank the delicious water inside.

    Traditional and New

    Next in the Garifuna kitchen with Chef Gloria we learned two different methods used for shredding the coconut;

    The Mennonite method created by the local Mennonite population is now the preferred method, which is an ingenious “drill” that is simple, effective and quick (see photo).

    The traditional Garifuna way, is a grater method, using a board with small pebbles embedded in it.  Effective but much more labor intensive (see photo).

    Garifuna Kitchen

    The traditional Garifuna Coconut grater

    We took all the grated coconut and hand squeezed all the milk out of it.  We added some water to the coconut and squeezed it some more.  Once the coconut was completely dry it no longer had the flavor we all know and love.  So I learned in the Garifuna kitchen with Chef Gloria that it’s all about the milk when it comes to coconut flavor.

    The milk became the base of the dish we were making and the coconut meat all went to the compost.

    To the milk over the fire we added basil, oregano and three whole habaneros.  Gloria assured me that as long as the habanero is whole, with no breaks or blemishes in the skin, it will give a wonderful flavor to the soup without adding any heat – something else I learned in the Garifuna

    Garifuna Kitchen

    Squeezing the milk from the coconut

    kitchen with Chef Gloria.

    While the coconut milk simmered we began work on turning the plantains into Hudut.  Using the mata and mata stick (a giant mortar and pestle) we smashed the plantains until they formed a ball firm like dough.  This dish was very similar in texture and flavor to the Fu Fu we ate in Burkina Faso, made from Casava.

    Casava also features prominently in Garifuna cuisine, particularly the flat Casava bread, a staple food of the Garifuna.

    It took awhile to get the texture of the Hudut just right and during that time

    Garifuna Kitchen

    Pounding the Hudut

    we added the already seared whole red snapper and then the okra to the simmering coconut milk.  And the tiny and rustic outdoor kitchen started to smell heavenly.

    The Garifuna Feast

    Gloria shooed us out of the kitchen and we sat down in the dining area and waited to enjoy the finished product.  The Hudut arrived, still warm and firm enough to eat with your fingers, then the beautiful Sere soup served in a calabash bowl, the whole fish smothered in the coconut goodness lightly fragranced with basil and oregano.  And as promised the habaneros added only flavor and no heat.

    Garifuna Kitchen

    Before serving

    Simple ingredients.  Locally sourced.  Lovingly prepared. Gratefully consumed.  Our day in the Garifuna kitchen with Chef Gloria was memorable, educational and delicious.  We will definitely make Sere and Hudut back

    Garifuna Kitchen

    Our feast

    home, and hopefully do it justice in honor of our new friend Gloria.

    We thank you.

    Seremein.

     

     

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    Europe Travel

    Island Hopping from Antiparos Greece

    My Fab Fifties Island Girl Life

    Location: South Aegean Greece

    What a wonderful decision it was for us to spend three weeks on the tiny island of Antiparos in the south Aegean.  We have truly loved our time here.

    Island Hopping from Antiparos Greece

    Antiparos

    Island Hopping from Antiparos Greece

    Delos

    Using Antiparos as our home base for island hopping wasn’t really what we set out to do, but it worked out well for us to take short day trips to some of the other islands around the area. However, something to note – because of the unusual weather pattern (around the world) the ferry from Antiparos to Paros was shut down for two days due to wind while we were here.  Something to think about if you plan to stay only a short time.  We had lots of time so it did not affect our plans.

    Santorini

    You can hop to Santorini from here, but the off-season ferry schedule makes that tough.  During the summer more boats run.  But we had already spent three days there so no need to go back.  But if you visit and want to do a day trip to Santorini check out both the ferry schedule as well as the privately operated tour boats.  The private boats run more frequently. When we took the ferry from Santorini to Paros it costs us 58 Euro for both of us (one way) and took three hours, stopping at Ios along the way. We used Minoan ferry line for this trip.

    Mykonos and Delos

    Island Hopping from Antiparos Greece

    Delos

    Island Hopping from Antiparos Greece

    Mykonos

    We used a private tour boat to visit Delos and Mykonos together on one day.  We took the ferry from Antiparos to Paros and we got on a van that transported us to Naousa (the van transfer was included in the tour price).  Here we hopped on a boat that could carry about 200 people.  It wasn’t full, but perhaps 100 people.  It was an hour ride to Delos where we spent three hours touring this amazing island and its significant ancient ruins.  Guided tours were available  but we did the tour on our own and really enjoyed it.

    Back on the boat we motored 15 minutes to Mykonos.  We had three hours to wander here.  We had a fantastic lunch at Salparo, sitting on the rocks overlooking the harbor.  We then enjoyed sauntering around the historic blue and white village, visited historic sites and looked at shops.  Three hours was just enough, since we had been to Mykonos once before eleven years ago.

    That trip to Delos and Mykonos was an all-day adventure and costs us 50 euro each. We booked this through Polo Tours in Paros.

    Paros

    Island Hopping from Antiparos Greece

    Naousa,Paros

    Island Hopping from Antiparos Greece

    Naousa, Paros

    We visited the island of Paros twice. The first visit we had a car and we headed to Naousa in the north part of the island.  The weather wasn’t great but we still enjoyed exploring the tiny alleys and hidden shops and homes in the old chora (village).  Naousa also has a charming and picturesque port.  We  drove up into the mountains to visit the teeny village of Lefkes.  This ancient town, far from the water, is unusual in how green it is, unlike most of the brown island landscape, and is home to a small agricultural population.  Lefkes is one of the few remaining chora that retains its authentic roots.

    The next time we visited Paros we spent several hours discovering Paroikia, the port town where the large ferries come and go.  The port area is bustling and noisy, but hidden back behind it is an incredible old chora that many people miss.  It once again had some fascinating buildings, tunnels and passageways, a spectacular old castle and temple of Athena, many lovely shops and of course, cats.

    Naxos

    Naxos

    We traveled on the lovely Blue Star Ferries to the island of Naxos, the largest of the Cyclades Islands, about a 45 minute ferry ride from Pariokia.  We paid 42 Euro total for both of us round-trip. It was a very windy day and I  worried about the boat ride, but the Blue Star line runs large, almost cruise-ship style boats, and I did fine with my motion sickness issue.

    Island Hopping from Antiparos Greece

    Pariokia, Paros

    It was also very windy in Naxos, and this port town is very exposed, so we spent a lot of time wandering the old chora up to the ancient castle and trying to stay out of the wind.  It’s another beautiful ancient town.  We enjoyed having a drink at the rooftop of 1739, which was out of the wind and offered a spectacular panoramic view.  We had a nice lunch of simple souvlaki at Yasouvlaki.  We then braved the crashing waves to cross the pedestrian manmade causeway to walk out to the famous ancient portara (door), site of an unfinished temple from 530BC.  We got wet.  Like I said, it was very windy. But it was worth it.  The Naxos Portara was worth it.

    Antiparos

    Island Hopping from Antiparos Greece

    Naxos

    At the end of the day in Naxos I told my husband that I have really enjoyed visiting all five of the islands, but in the end, I am so glad we stayed three weeks on Antiparos.  It has everything we want; quiet and peaceful, small village, beautiful secluded beaches, a handful of shops and is still close enough to visit the surrounding islands.

    I do hope to return here someday.

    Where to next?

    But now its time to leave.  Next stop – ten-day tour of Egypt and Jordan.  A definite bucket list destination for me ever since I was a child.  We hope you will continue to follow along on our Fab Fifties Adventures.

    Farewell Greece and Antiparos.   I love you.

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    Europe Travel  --  Food & Drink

    My Favorite Greek Foods and Recipes

    It’s Not Greek to Me

    Location: Antiparos Greece

    My Favorite Greek Foods and Recipes

    Skid at Skala Restaurant in Santorini

    I’ve been to Greece before, and one of the things I was most looking forward to about returning here was the cuisine and enjoying my favorite greek foods and recipes.  Fresh, local and fabulous, it’s easy to see how healthy the Mediterranean diet is.  Copious amounts of olive oil, ocean to plate seafood, salty mouth-watering feta, and produce from local growers including gorgeous red and yellow tomatoes, crunchy cucumbers, purple eggplant, greens, beets, onions, potatoes. Lemons, limes, pomegranate and other seasonal fruit figure prominently.

    What’s not to like?

    My Favorite Greek Foods and Recipes

    Dolmades so delicious and easy to make

    My favorite greek foods and recipes were enjoyed in restaurants on Antiparos, Mykonos, Paros and Santorini. I have enjoyed squid several times, it’s best I think when simply grilled with lemon and olive oil.  I’ve also had octopus with orzo (tasted very much like a risotto) and lamb souvlaki.  We’ve tried dolmades (I love these lovely little lemony pockets of deliciousness and have made these at home several times), anchovies, sardines and fried cheese called saganaki. We also enjoyed moussaka, pastitsio, rabbit stew and many choices of salads.

    My Favorite Greek Foods and Recipes

    Making Humus

    I usually like to take a cooking class in every country I visit.  But here on tiny Antiparos there is no such thing.  So instead I have set out to cook several Greek recipes I’ve found on  (where else) Pinterest.  Everything from sandwiches to salads to spanakopita has made its way out of our Airbnb kitchen these past three weeks.  So here are my successes (and one fail) from my self-taught Mediterranean Highlights Menu from Antiparos.

    My Favorite Greek Foods and Recipes;

    Salads

    My Favorite Greek Foods and Recipes

    Greek Salad

    In most restaurants you can find many choices of salads.  Most popular are Eggplant Salad, Tomato Salad and of course, Greek Salad.

    Greek Salad is fairly simple and usually includes the following ingredients; feta, olives, tomato, red onion, capers and cucumber.  Sometimes it will have lettuce, but the Greek way is without lettuce.  The dressing is olive oil (of course), lemon, salt and pepper.

    Greek Salad Recipe

    My Favorite Greek Foods and Recipes

    Chickpea Salad and Eggplant Chips

    Chickpea Salad is also very popular.  Chickpeas grow in abundance in the mediterranean region. Chickpeas find their way into many recipes, not the least of all being hummus.  This salad I made included lots of delicious fresh veg as well as the chickpeas.  I had left over chicken from our Greek Chicken (see below) so I shredded that and added it to the salad.  It was delicious served with the fried eggplant chips.

    Chickpea Salad recipe

    Mezes

    My Favorite Greek Foods and Recipes

    Bujurdi

    In Greek small bites or appetizers are known as mezes.  You will often find mezes on menus to be served with a glass of wine.  You can also enjoy mezes before your meal.  We ordered several mezes when we ate out and especially liked saganaki (a fried cheese), octopus in vinegar, and bujurdi an incredible cheesy dip.  So I decided to tackle bujurdi.  It’s amazing.  Try it.

    Bujurdi Recipe

    Light Meals

    My Favorite Greek Foods and Recipes

    My homemade spanakopita

    Spanokopita has always been one of my favorite Greek dishes.  And it is so easy.  Don’t fear the filo! It is very easy to work with.  Spanakopita has simple ingredients; filo (purchase it ready-made fresh or frozen), spinach, onions, feta and dill.  Bake and enjoy for breakfast, lunch or dinner!

    Spanakopita Recipe

    My Favorite Greek Foods and Recipes

    Greek Sandwich

    For lunch one day we ate the most delicious, and very filling, Greek Sandwich.  This sandwich could easily be dinner, with a side salad or dolmades which is how I served it.  It’s a very tall sandwich, so be sure to get nice fresh bread that can hold up to the numerous ingredients.  I will definitely make this recipe again.

    Greek Sandwich

    My Favorite Greek Foods and Recipes

    Olives at every meal

    At most of our lunches we ate very simple mezes of canned sardines (so many choices available in the store) or fresh anchovies in oil and lemon along with pita, hummus, feta, olives, cherry tomatoes, sliced cucumber and fruit. A very simple and easy meal and totally satisfying.  Here in Antiparos we have really fallen in love with lemon hummus.  Bright and nutty and delicious.

    Delicious Dinners

    My Favorite Greek Foods and Recipes

    Greek Roast Chicken

    Most any country you travel to you can find a version of roast chicken, and since we were blessed with an oven in this Airbnb I was well prepared to try this recipe.  We purchased a beautiful plump and organic locally grown chicken and with some simple herbs and lemon, created a fantastic dish. We had left overs for two additional meals. I served the chicken with a warm potato salad with feta.

    Roast Chicken

    My Favorite Greek Foods and Recipes

    Moussaka

    I’ve always been one to experiment boldly in the kitchen, and I tackled a full Greek meal for guests when I was just 23 years old and we were first married. This was my first attempt at moussaka.  It was a smashing success and I have made it many times over the years (35 years since!). So cooking it here in Greece seemed appropriate, even though we had enjoyed it in a restaurant. This recipe gave us lots of left overs.

    Moussaka

    Dessert

    My Favorite Greek Foods and Recipes

    Baklava

    I didn’t make any desserts but I must mention how much the Greeks like their sweets.  Fortunately (or unfortunately I’m not sure) the little village here in Antiparos has an amazing bakery…which we visited several times.  Of course you know baklava, but there are many other cookies, pastries, custards, pies and amazing bread available fresh every day.  We made a point to partake – of course all in the name of research!

    The Big Fail

    My Favorite Greek Foods and Recipes

    Seabream fail

    I love seafood, but I admit, it can be difficult to cook.  I wanted to grill a whole fish on our BBQ, but the wind has been so high we couldn’t use the grill.  We bought a whole fish, frozen, because the fishmonger has closed for the season.  I think that was our biggest mistake.  It just didn’t smell or taste fresh.  Despite the deliciously fresh herbs (dill and parsley) and lemon and garlic we stuffed the fish with – we hated it.  I didn’t even eat mine. I think the recipe isn’t at fault here – or the cook for that matter.  The fish wasn’t fresh and so it was a fail.

    My Favorite Greek Foods and Recipes

    Saganaki fried cheese

    We haven’t eaten out much during our time in Antiparos, and now many of the local restaurants have closed for the season.  But we enjoy creating in the kitchen, and we have learned a lot about the local cuisine in doing so.

    So there you have it! My favorite Greek foods and recipes. Fabulous Greece.  Fabulous Food.  Fabulous Life. Opa!

    Check out some of our other blogs about Fabulous Food Here!

     

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    Europe Travel

    Transylvania Highlights Tour

    Romania’s Beautiful Preserved Medieval Villages

    Location: Transylvania, Romania

    We could have easily spent a month in Romania.  But we only had ten days, and so we decided to focus this time on a Transylvania Highlights Tour – Romania’s Beautiful Preserved Medieval Villages.

    Transylvania Highlights Tour

    Map shows the three regions from 1648

    We will come back again, because there is a lot more to see in this sleepy little country that tourist are just beginning to discover.

    History

    In the Middle Ages, what we know as Romania today, was split into three distinct regions; Wallachia in the south where today Bucharest is, Moldavia to the east, now split into Moldova and Romania and Transylvania in the west.

    Transylvania Highlights Tour

    Map shows the Kingdom of Romania

    Today these regions are often referred to as Greater Romania, the Kingdom of Romania.  A growing interest is to reunite the region and bring Moldova back into the Romanian speaking states.

    “Romanian is an Eastern Romance language, descended from Latin with some German, French, English, Greek, Slavic, and Hungarian borrowings. Romanians are by far the most numerous group of speakers of an Eastern Romance language today. It has been said that they constitute “an island of Latinity”[5] in Eastern Europe, surrounded on all sides either by Slavic peoples or by the Hungarians.” (source Wikipedia)

    Transylvania Highlights Tour

    View of Brasov from top of Mount Tampa

    Our time in Transylvania was wonderful.  We had good weather and enjoyed visiting four of the region’s main medieval towns; Brasov, Bran, Sighisoara and Sibiu.

    Romania sustained minimal damage during World War II, relative to how much the rest of Europe sustained.  Romania’s capital Bucharest was bombed as was the oil industry in the town of Ploiesti.  Which means, luckily for us, the fairytale castles, medieval villages and citadels survived and are intact today.

    If you had come here 25 years ago, just after the fall of communism, you would have found these villages much as they had been for centuries.  A square in the center surrounded by tiny streets that spoke out to the high wall surrounding the fortification.  The center square would likely have a church and a clock tower and the townspeople going about their daily business. Village folk would be selling the produce from the garden, the freshly made bread and cheese.  There would still have been horses and carriages and local artisans. Think  “Beauty and the Beast”.  But today, these towns function primarily for the tourists, just like so many other places in Europe.

    But despite that, we found the places we visited enjoyable, beautiful, friendly and full of wonderful history, architecture and food. Well worth a visit.

    Architecture

    Transylvania Highlights Tour

    Peles Castle, in Sinai, home to several generations of Romanian royals and still occupied today by Michael I of Romania

    Transylvania Highlights Tour

    Bran Castle in Bran, occupied for generations by Romanian Royalty and the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula castle

    Much of this area’s habitation is traced back to the Saxons arriving in the 12th century.  They are responsible for developing many of the villages during the middle ages in Transylvania, including the towns we spent time in.  The fortified towns, amazing castles and fortresses and churches and houses still standing hundreds of years later are a result of the craftsmanship and fortitude of the Saxons.

    The Gothic style is prevalent in parts of Transylvania and seen distinctly in the 14th century Bran’s Castle in Bran (the castle that inspired Bram Stoker to write Dracula), and the 14th century Black Church in Brasov.

    The middle ages also brought the fortified towns to Transylvania, with Sibiu, Sighisoara and Brasov being exceptional examples of how the design focused on functionality and protection.

    Transylvania Highlights Tour

    Brasov’s only remaining fortress gate

    The city of Brasov today is a mix of Gothic, Baroque and Renaissance architecture representing the centuries of development in this mountain town.

    Sighisoara is a nearly completely intact 15th century fortified citadel and is a UNESCO World Heritage site.  This tiny village is where Vlad the Impaler Dracul was born, the character that Bram Stoker turned into a fictional vampire.  For the tourists, you’ll see some Dracula kitsch here, but luckily it is not overdone.

    Transylvania Highlights Tour

    One of several fortified towers in the amazingly preserved town of Sighisoara

    Transylvania Highlights Tour

    Houses in Sibiu

    Sibiu is the grandest of the three towns, with a main square boasting a fabulous variety of Baroque and Renaissance as well as Gothic buildings and churches surrounded by parts of the remaining fortress and towers.  Sibui was an important trade center with powerful guilds dominating the regional trade.  Houses remain along the cobbled street and are brightly painted.  The historic Journeyman house, where the wood carver guild once reigned, maintains the pole full of sharp objects often left for luck.

    Transylvania Highlights Tour

    Beautiful mix of architecture in Sibiu

    Food

    Transylvania enjoys many of the same foods you can find throughout Romania, but it also has it’s regional specialities.  While in Transylvania we enjoyed;

    Mititei – small rolled sausages without casing grilled and served with mustard

    Transylvania Highlights Tour

    Eggplant Salad

    Eggplant Salad – we had this two ways, the first mixed with Mayonnaise, the second mixed with red peppers.  Both were the consistence of dip like humus.

    Transylvania Highlights Tour

    Pork Ciorba (soup)

    Ciorba – means soup and the Romanians love soup.  So filling, warm and delicious you can find many delicious soups including a bean soup often served in a bread bowl, chicken noodle soup ( a favorite of the locals), goulash soup, lamb stew, pork sour soup, cabbage soup and many, many more.

    Sarmele is cabbage rolls, similar to cabbage rolls we have enjoyed in other Eastern European countries but slightly different with a sour rye taste and dill.

    Transylvania Highlights Tour

    Cabbage rolls with polenta and pork

    Jumari – deep-fried smoked pork belly or bacon.  I couldn’t stop eating this.

    Placinta – means pie and the word is used for a pastry filled cheese item, but also used for other kinds of pies including savory pies similar to Sheperds Pie.

    Transylvania Highlights Tour

    Papanasi with sour cream and berries

    Papanasi – possibly my favorite of all the foods we tried is this lovely little dessert.  I’m actually not much of a dessert person but this one is so delicious.  Translated as Romanian Donut, the cheese filled dough is deep-fried, crispy on the outside and very moist and delicious on the inside.  Served hot and then covered with yogurt or sour cream and berries. We had it once with blackberries and once with blueberries and both times so yummy good.

    We have learned so much during our short visit to this beautiful, interesting and delicious country.  We will return again someday to explore more.  But until that day, we thank Romania and its wonderful people for such a pleasant visit.

    Thank you! Multumesc! Fabulos!

     

    Europe Travel  --  Food & Drink

    The Food of Poland – Pierogi and So Much More

    Location: Poland

    We have spent the past two weeks eating our way through Poland.  If you had asked me about Polish food before arriving, I would have said “well they eat pierogi and drink vodka!”  I think many Americans know only this as well.  But as much as I love the pierogi, I have learned all about the food of Poland – pierogi and so much more.

    Poland’s tumultuous history is identifiable in their foods (history blog coming soon).  Over the millennia the region we know as Poland was controlled by Prussia, Austro-Hungarian Empire, Hapsburg Dynasty, Russia, Sweden, Lithuania, Germany, Soviet Union and others.  Watch this short video to understand how fluid the borders of this area have been. It’s fascinating.

    Poland’s Changing Borders

    So, of course that means for more than two thousand years the region has been influenced by the surrounding kingdoms and countries.  But also, and perhaps more importantly, Poland has endured a great deal of economic hardship, which means developing simple foods with simple ingredients seasonally available or what ever is on hand.

    And you will see that in the comfort foods of Poland.

    Soups and Meats

    The Foods of Poland

    Zurek Sour Soup. My favorite

    In Poznan I had one of my favorite traditionally Polish foods, a soup called zurek.  I really need to learn to make this delicious, bright, flavorful soup.  Often called Sour Soup because of the fermented rye used, it’s very difficult to describe but definitely not difficult to eat.  Want to try it?  Check out this recipe.

    The Foods of Poland

    Duck with beets and dumplings

    Soups are very popular in Poland, particularly in the long dark winter, and in addition to zurek we had tomato soup, seafood soup, beet soup (borscht) and another sour soup with fermented rye and dill called zalewajka. I loved that one too.  Want to try it? Check out this recipe.

    In Poznan and in Wroclaw we also enjoyed wonderfully prepared duck, traditionally served with beets and yeast dumplings.  We also had deliciously hand-made sausages and pickles served with mustard.  Another favorite was a beetroot and strawberry salad served with warm goat cheese.  A remarkable combination of simple ingredients.

    Pierogi and Cooking Class

    The Foods of Poland

    Fresh cured meats with pickles and mustard

    We stayed the longest in the remarkable city of Krakow, where we had time to really dive into the culture and food scene.  Here is where we ate the most pierogi, taste testing traditional favorites as well as a few new creations.  The Pierogi Ruskie is the favorite amongst the Poles, and I have to say that is my favorite too.  Simple ingredients of potato, cheese, and onion burst in your mouth, full of home cooked goodness.  Another favorite we enjoyed was duck pierogi – a more modern take on

    The Foods of Poland

    Duck pierogi

    the traditional food.  We also had mushroom and cabbage, spinach and cheese, blueberry, and raspberry.

    So much pierogi so little time!

    In Krakow I had a wonderful pleasure of spending half a day with Olga of Urban Adventures in her tiny communist era apartment, where we created some delicious pierogi, learning the nuances of preparation.  The dough for pierogi is as simple as pasta dough, just flour, egg, water and a little salt.  Hand mixing and hand forming is important to keep it traditional. Pierogi is always boiled, but left over pierogi is often pan-fried the next day for another delicious way to enjoy it.  And since you can’t just make a few pierogi, there are always leftovers. There are many ways to enjoy Pierogi.  Click on this link for a recipes for several of the most traditional ones, including Ruskie. I have also attached a pdf here with the recipe Olga so kindly provide.Pierogi receipe

    The Foods of Poland

    Forming the pierogi

    While spending the day with Olga we also visited the local Polish market where we learned to order the items we needed – in Polish – while the local merchants smiled and indulged our broken mispronunciation.  At the market we also learned not only about fresh meat and produce, but about the many kinds of popular pickles, pastries, cheese and, surprisingly, lard.  We ate bacon lard spread like butter

    The Foods of Poland

    At the market fresh eggs and a polish cheese called Golka

    on delicious fresh bread.  Who knew that could be so good?

    Christmas Traditions

    Our visit to Krakow also included spending four hours one evening with Delicious Poland, walking around the city and tasting so many delicious polish specialties.  Seriously I thought I was going to explode.  If you come to Krakow definitely do a food walking tour – but DO NOT eat lunch before hand.  So much delicious food.  Here is what we ate:

    Pierogi of course, at one of the city’s most loved family owned pierogi restaurants called Przystanek.  We learned that sometimes fruit filled pierogi is served as a main dish, and the mushroom and cabbage pierogi is always served on Christmas

    The Foods of Poland

    Ruskie Pierogi made in cooking class. The most traditional.

    Eve.

    Christmas Eve is a major holiday and the family gathers to make the pierogi together.  A traditional Polish Christmas Eve meal includes 12 courses, symbolizing riches, the 12 apostles and the 12 months of the year.  The feast begins with the breaking of a wafer and is followed by; red borscht, mushroom soup, carp, herring, mushroom and cabbage pierogi, sauerkraut, cabbage rolls, kutia (grain and candied fruit mixture), gingerbread, dried fruit compote, poppy seed cake.

    The Foods of Poland

    Poppyseed Cake

    Another wonderful Christmas Eve tradition in Poland is that every table is set with one extra seat.  Traditionally set for anyone who may be alone or needing a meal on Christmas Eve.

    Walking Food Tour Krakow

    Our food tour continued at Zalewajke in the Jewish Quarter, where we enjoyed the zalewajke soup and the borscht (mentioned above).  We continued to the Jewish Market square to try a more recent addition to the polish food scene, zapiekanka.  This open face sandwich is the favorite fast food in Krakow, developed in the communist era when burgers were not allowed because they were too “American”.

    The Foods of Poland

    Zapiekanka open face sandwich

    Trying local vodka at Hevre (a converted Jewish Prayer Hall) I realized I actually like vodka, if it’s the good stuff!  My favorite was the Bison Grass; so subtle and smooth.  Next we visited a very popular local brewery called Ursa Major with a woman brew master!  Here we enjoyed sausage and cheese with two beers – a no hop(!) summer ale (interesting) and a

    The Foods of Poland

    Enjoying the Bison Grass Vodka

    session IPA.  Unlike most places we’ve been, American-style IPAs are very popular here.

    So we are thinking we probably just have dessert left but no!  We continued on to Kuchina u Doroty where we ate more!  Two of my favorites of my time in Poland I had here – a delicious potato pancake covered in goulash called place ziemniaczane z gulaszem (try it) and a cabbage and sausage stew called bigos (try it) .  In addition we had golabki (cabbage rolls), beetroot salad, kompot (juice) and racuchy, a fried dough dessert that tasted a lot like french toast, covered with yogurt and fresh berries.

    The Foods of Poland

    Potato pancake with goulash

    About this time Arne plopped me in a wheelbarrow and wheeled me home.

    The Foods of Poland

    The women in my cooking class.

    Our time in Poland has been incredibly delicious and that has been incredibly surprising.  Poland is an underrated tourism destination, and now I know the Polish cuisine is also misunderstood and underrated.  I will take everything I learned about the food and culture of this incredible country and refer to it often.

    And someday, I will return.  To eat, to enjoy and to savor all this country has to offer.

    The Foods of Poland

    Arne enjoying some of the local microbrews

    Dziekuje Poland! Fantastyczny!

    Note – Traveling and eating in Poland is very inexpensive.  Some of our nicest meals with appetizers, main course, dessert, wine and beer only cost around $40.  As of this writing the exchange rate is 4 zloty to one USD.

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